This fragrant, rich Mediterranean sauce perfectly complements a good piece of grilled meat, or fish (or even a steak tartare (recipe coming soon)), but it’s also amazing spread generously onto sandwiches, or served as a dip for chips and fries. I’ve added some salty oil-packed anchovies and some of the oil they came in to the sauce to add some briny umami-goodness (don’t worry: it’s not fishy at all!). Whether you think the addition of anchovies (or any other added flavor besides garlic for that matter) is total blasphemy or not, I think we can all agree that anything served with ‘aioli’ of any kind is going to be delicious and bursting with flavor.
But what is aioli really, besides a fancy name for garlic sauce?
Well… that is what it is. Aioli or aïoli is a garlicky sauce that is usually found in the cuisines of Spain, France and some parts of Italy. Aioli is a compound of the words meaning ‘garlic’ and ‘oil’ and in its most traditional pure form aioli is an emulsion made only of crushed raw garlic and olive oil (and maybe some salt). Nowadays, popular versions of this condiment use egg (and lemon juice, or vinegar) as an emulsifier to create that creamy, rich sauce that’s closer to a garlic mayonnaise – the version you and I are probably most familiar with.
Some real purists believe the sauce should never contain egg, as the lack of egg is what actually distinguishes the sauce from a more common mayonnaise… but I can’t get upset with this rich and creamy modernized mayonnaise-y version since it’s so delicious. People don’t just disagree on the addition of eggs: some say a true aioli should contain no other seasonings, or flavors other than salt and garlic, despite the existence of all those differently flavored ‘aioli’ you’ll find on menu’s nowadays (I see you, saffron smoked paprika aioli!). Of course, I don’t object to adding extra flavors as long as there’s always a load of garlic in there as well – but then again, I am no aioli expert.
Whether or not you agree with the addition of eggs and other flavorings, one thing is definitely true: you should always use a high quality extra-virgin olive oil with a mild flavor when making aioli as strong-flavored oils might turn the sauce bitter. Since extra-virgin olive oil is used – the hues of which can range from a deep green to pale yellow color – the color of aioli can range from a bright yellow to a very light cream-color depending on the color of the oil used. You shouldn’t worry if your aioli turns out to be more yellow (like mine) than those very light versions you are probably used to: they all taste the same. Of course, the color of the egg yolk (if using) might also slightly affect the color of the sauce. In order to get that light mayonnaise-y color you often see, some restaurants use a whole egg instead of just the yolk. At times, part or all of the olive oil is substituted by sunflower, or canola oil as well to create a lighter color and milder flavor.
As you see, the name aioli can refer to many things: a traditional pure garlic and oil emulsion, a garlicky mayonnaise, or some other intensely flavored mayonnaise-like sauce. So, perhaps my recipe here is for anchovy aioli, or maybe some people feel I should just call it ‘anchovy mayo’. I’m not angry at calling it either of those names; no matter what you think it should be called, let’s all agree that this is one amazingly delicious condiment.
Tip #1: If you don’t care about being traditional and just want a quick aioli fix, get rid of the mortar and pestle and make your aioli in a food processor, or blender.
Tip #2: Should you be looking for a more basic, traditional aioli that you usually find at restaurants, or even at the supermarket, replace the anchovies listed with an extra garlic clove (or two).
Anchovy Aioli / Anchovy Mayonnaise
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets + 1 teaspoon of the oil they’re stored in
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 125ml mild flavoured extra-virgin olive oil
- Make a garlic and anchovy paste: With a pestle and mortar, mash the garlic cloves and anchovy fillets into a very fine paste (alternatively, use a food processor).
- Make an emulsion: In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice and mustard. Add the teaspoon of reserved oil from the anchovies to the bowl with the egg mixture, then very gradually pour the 125ml of olive oil into the bowl, whisking constantly, until all the oil is well incorporated and the sauce has thickened and emulsified. If you feel like the mixture is starting to split while adding the oil, stop adding oil for a bit and whisk briskly until the mixture comes back together. Then continue adding the oil.
- Add the flavorings: gently stir the garlic and anchovy paste through the emulsion.
- Chill: for a better result, cover the aioli with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to let it set and let all the flavors come together before serving.